Ericsson's Wibergh on solving network congestion and the promise of LTE broadcast

Johan Wibergh

Johan Wibergh

with Johan Wibergh, executive vice president, head of business unit networks at Ericsson

Infrastructure vendor Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) used the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, last month to tout some of the company's bold predictions, including its forecast that 90 percent of network traffic will be video. The company also said that by 2018 there will be 6.5 billion mobile broadband subscribers, up from 500 million at the end of 2012.

FierceBroadbandWireless Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek talked with Johan Wibergh, Ericsson's executive vice president and head of business unit networks about the company's traffic predictions and how wireless operators will be able to handle all that additional network congestion.

FierceBroadbandWireless: At Ericsson's press conference at Mobile World Congress, the company talked a lot about the growth in traffic on the networks. How are the networks going to handle this additional traffic?

Johan Wibergh: We basically know how to increase capacity one-thousand times going forward. That is by using a combination of existing technologies and occasional new spectrum. You can't solve all that if you don't get new spectrum. Then you can only solve some of the problem.

When it comes to the mobile network, we are pretty good about inventing new things. We have been in the technology business for more than 30 years.

FierceBroadbandWireless: Can you be more specific about the technologies that will help solve this problem? Do you mean small cells?

Wibergh: Yes. We talk about three things that will make it happen with heterogeneous networks. The first is to improve the existing macro network. There are lots of things we can do. Add more carriers, more software features. 

The second is to densify the network. Adding more cell sites gives you the best capacity. Cell splitting, where you have one base station that gets fully loaded, and then you split that cell into two, that also gives you more capacity out of it. Cell splitting is the most common way to get more capacity.

The third is small cells-- add them inside enterprise buildings and venues. We do some with DAS [distributed antenna systems] in train stations and such. We have a range of small cell products from Wi-Fi access points to picocell base stations and microcell base stations.

FierceBroadbandWireless: One of the challenges with small cells is the backhaul. How do operators overcome that issue?

Wibergh: Some people think it is very easy to add small cells. The technology has been over-hyped. I think it's important to know about the other things as well--the macro network and the cell splitting. The problem with small cells is when you have backhaul you need power. How do you generate power?

There is a reason it is called a mini-base station because it is very complicated. You just shrink everything down. That is why it has taken some time to make this product and to sell them. With backhaul, we are releasing this summer a new software that makes it easier to upgrade the backhaul to Internet grade. We have been developing backhaul products where you eliminate the delay issues.

The second thing--one of the biggest problems you have is interference between the macrocell and the small cell. How do you make sure that there is coordination? If you don't get that right you will destroy the conversation. You have to coordinate because they work on the same frequency. But if you do the coordination correctly, you can double the capacity.

FierceBroadbandWireless: Can you talk about LTE Broadcast? Operators seem to be looking at that.

Wibergh: This technology may have several uses. The one use case that I like to give as an example is if you are at a venue, such as a sporting event. In the past, people mainly used their cell phones to make calls before the event and then they paid attention to the event. Now people want to see game videos.  People want to watch video on their phone, and it's hard for the operator to know whether they can give a good service in a venue with several thousand people.

With LTE broadcast you can turn it on, you can have a one-way downlink, you can choose several different TV channels and people can see one camera angle or another camera angle. You can decide.

Another example would be some event--such as a national election--where everyone wants to see something. You could broadcast the video to everyone on their phone. You can broadcast a video to everyone or in one place. 

To make this work we have to upgrade the network. But on the device side, you have to have a software upgrade to the chipset in the new smartphones. We are already seeding the market with these smartphones with the chipsets and then it will need a software upgrade.

It is very practical to do it. It has a good use-case.